Case Number 19707: Small Claims Court


First Run Features // 2009 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // September 18th, 2010

The Charge

An American Coming of Age Story.

The Case

Nicole Opper's fascinating documentary Off and Running introduces spectators to a Brooklyn teenager struggling to come to terms with who she is and where she really comes from. Created with great care and attention to detail, this is a brave, compelling film that tells a unique coming-of-age story through the eyes of a girl whose dreams are in jeopardy because she's unable to abandon the curiosity about her roots and stand the pressure of her growing identity crisis. This is a prime example of what real-life documentary filmmaking is all about.

Opper's film centers on Avery, a smart teen and talented track athlete who didn't grow up like most African-American kids in America; she was raised by two white Jewish lesbians. Living with her two adopted brothers as part of a white family hasn't bothered Avery that much during her childhood, but now that she's growing into a woman, questions about her birth mother are giving her a restless time. She even decided to contact her via a letter through the adoption agency, but she's still waiting for a reply. Additionally, she's starting to wonder more and more about why she doesn't feel close to the African-American community.

From here, Avery quickly slips into a downward spiral that threatens to damage her relationship with her parents. She starts to stay away from home, she considers dropping out of school, and she even starts to neglect her potential track career, the one thing she held on to no matter what troubles she encountered. Opper is always around documenting Avery's decisions and her reflections on her life and identity, and the result is a deeply moving film about someone's complex journey to rediscover herself before tackling the challenges of the future.

Opper's unobtrusive method of capturing Avery's story boosts the film's realistic intensity. Although she lets Avery and her family tell their story without interfering, she makes sure the camera is always around so we won't miss a crucial moment in Avery's important transformation. Her style is mostly rough, but it all works to the movie's advantage. Opper shows tremendous respect for her subjects throughout, and her efforts and compassion clearly show in the final result. In the end, viewers are treated to a fast-paced, utterly inspiring account of a youngster's emotional rollercoaster ride to redefine and accept her identity.

Off and Running features small productions values, but that adds to the naturalistic feel of the film. The DVD presentation includes a solid widescreen presentation boasting a sharp image quality and solid sound transfer. The disc's bonus section features a few bonus scenes and an informative look at how the music for the movie came together.

Off and Running is a documentary I can only recommend. This is a film with a tremendously captivating real-life story that will immediately capture your attention, and it deserves a strong viewership. This is smart, valuable filmmaking at its best, no question about it.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile
Studio: First Run Features
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Bonus Scenes
* Featurette
* Outreach Notes

* IMDb

* Official Site